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A CurtainUp Review

The Country Club

>We're seduced by the status quo
--- Soos (Cynthia Nixon), about the brand of the American Dream lived by her and a group of thirty-something members of a small town country club

The Wyomissing High School emblazoned on a mug used as a prop at one of the around-the-calendar parties that propel the action of this present day drawing room comedy probably belongs to Douglas Carter Beane, a Wyomissing boy turned playwright. Mr. Beane has used the folks from his home town to skewer the idiosyncracies of people everywhere who are ruled by the status quo.

While an undercurrent of seriousness and sadness ripples beneath the group whose around-the-calendar parties in the Wyomissing Country Club's Cub Room serve as the plot propelling device, the playwright's perfect pitch for bright, brisk dialogue prevents The Country Club from being overwhelmed by too much seriousness. In typical drawing room genre fashion, it's a pastiche; and, thanks to a topnotch cast and staging, a delectable one. The hour and forty minutes of festivities whizz by on waves of laughter unlikely to be followed by any heavy-duty post mortems about the play's darker chords.

While The Country Club lacks the satyric edge and originality of the author's As Bees In Honey Drown (our review) and will hardly pose a threat to A.R. Guerney's lock on theatrical Waspdom, the script does manage to integrate observations about Wasp morality with relationship issues. The fact that several of these characters are played by actors seen regularly on the small and big screen doesn't hurt the "with it" factor that attracts the young audiences that the big uptown producers yearn for.

All the actors are superb. There are seven in all -- six Wasps with daffy names like Soos, Pooker, Froggy, Bri, Zip and Hutch; and a lone outsider, the Italian-American Catholic Chloe (Callie Thorne) whose presence adds more fizz to the many parties than all the beer, champagne and rum consumed.

The central character Soos, is played with a bravura mix of fragility and outspokenness by Cynthia Nixon. She is the only one of the group of Cub Room regulars who has tried to break away from the status quo comfort and prejudices handed down to them by their parents and grandparents. She married a man outside the inner circle and moved to California but the breakup of that marriage has brought her back long enough for the outside world to be too frightened to leave again. That's why she's willing to begin where she left off with her tall, dark and handsome high school flame Zip (played with winsome boyish charm by Tom Everett Scott). Scenes such as Soos' description of her marriage breakup, when the dialogue stops being smart long enough to be truly sensitive, are among the evening's best. Soo's last scene with Zip is as moving as it is funny.

The best of the smart talk goes to Soos' best friend Pooker the deliciously wry Amy Hohn. She's the one who re-educates Soos to the fine points of Wasp lingo ("he's a character" for someone who's Jewish; "so well spoken" for someone who's black). When Soos wants to talk about her hurt over Zip's passion for his best friend Hutch's (T. Scott Cunningham) sexy Italian wife Chloe, Pooker concludes a high-speed condensed countdown of the club's iinner circles' woes with "we all have our little stories but nobody brings them up -- it's called community spirit!"

The most outrageous humor comes from Amy Sedaris who gives a priceless portrayal of Froggy, the group's matronly, party loving member. She is funny even when she merely thrusts out her chin and says nothing -- though it's the rare moment that leaves her speechless, or apologetic about some of her more beyond the pale pronouncements. Peter Benson also proves himself funny even during his almost mute early scenes.

No small measure of the play's success is attributable to the snappy pace maintained throughout by director Christopher Ashley and the fine work of the design team. James M. Youman's pale gray set is a marvel of placid comfort, and the prop changes from party to party are great fun. Jonathan Bixby and Gregory A. Gale have brought their customary wit to outfitting the cast, with Frances Aronson most effectively lighting the play's two nude scenes (Conservative wasp theater goers take note: both of these are more funny than offensive!).

Postscript: This good-natured view of the Pennsylvania country club set circa 1999, brings back memories of John O'Hara, the novelist who spent most of his career taking apart people in this milieu half a century ago, most memorably so in the novel Appointment In Samarra which continues to be on many "favorite books" lists. For an online reprint edition go here

by Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Christopher Ashley
With: Peter Benson, F. Scott Cunningham (replacing Frederick Weller who played Hutch during the show's early weeks), Amy Hohn, Cynthia Nixon, Tom Everett Scott, Amy Sedaris, Callie Thorne.
Set Design: James M. Youmans
Lighting Design: Frances Aronson
Costume Design: Jonathan Bixby and Gregory A. Gale. Running time: 1 hour and 40 minute, including 10 minute intermission
October 14, 1999: A second extension to 12/18 has been announced. As of 10/25, Jessica Stone takes over as Froggie (Amy Sedaris). Presented by the Drama Dept.
Greenwich House, 27 Barrow(2 blocks south of Christopher), 279-4200
Opened 9/29/99; closing 11/06/99

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/11/99 performance

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